Cubs' Joe Maddon expounds on positives, negatives of one closer


Cubs' Joe Maddon expounds on positives, negatives of one closer

The Cubs bullpen is a topic of conversation that won't go away as Joe Maddon continues to mix and match the arms he uses late in games, to varying degrees of success.

Four different Cubs relief pitchers have recorded saves this season. Seven have been in save opportunities.

And with closer Hector Rondon given a shorter leash of late — he was removed from a game in the bottom of the ninth after walking the only hitter he faced during the Cubs' road series in Washington — Maddon has opted to use different arms in save situations. In the Cubs' last five games (four wins), three different pitchers have picked up a save: Rondon, Pedro Strop and Jason Motte.

So are we in closer-by-committee territory yet?

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That's an unknown. But Maddon admitted there are advantages to each strategy: a designated closer and several relievers who can pitch in a variety of situations.

“I like having one guy, absolutely, because you when you do, you’re managing eight innings with your bullpen. When you don’t have the one guy, necessarily, then you’re managing nine. That makes a difference," Maddon said ahead of Friday's game against the Reds. "So it’s always nice. Those last three outs can be a pain in the butt. The other team, mentally, always steps it up a little bit there."

But there's the other side of the coin, which Maddon seemed to like just as much.

“But the nice thing, also, about not necessarily having it designated that way is that you get this more cleaner, clear opportunity to use your best pitcher in the eighth inning against the middle of the lineup. Whereas you can send somebody with lesser ability against three, four, five or two, three, four so you can save ‘the dude’ for six, seven, eight or seven, eight, nine. That’s where it gets skewed sometimes," the manager said. "And so when you’re a little bit more full throttle and not worrying about roles or innings that a guy’s supposed to pitch in, you could potentially match it up better, theoretically. Now does that always work? I don’t know. But purely from a logical perspective, I kind of like it that way.

“If the high-leverage hitters are coming up in the eighth inning and you know the guy in the ninth inning’s better suited for those guys but you’re not going to do it ‘because,’ then sometimes you feel like you’re at a disadvantage. And then all of a sudden the lead’s blown in the eighth, and you missed opportunities to put the guy in. These are the things you think about. So when you don’t necessarily have a one guy, then you’re able to match it up better."

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Maddon said that's the situation that presented itself in Thursday's win. The Reds sent Joey Votto, Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce up to the plate in the eighth inning, the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters in their lineup. Maddon used Strop in the eighth, where the more difficult hitters were hitting, and then he used Rondon to close out the game against hitters lower down in the Reds' lineup. Strop retired all three hitters he faced, with Rondon retiring three of four in the ninth.

Clearly, Maddon appreciates flexibility in the bullpen, being able to use relievers in whichever situation he thinks is best. That could mean more mixing and matching and different names in different innings as the summer moves along.

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

The MLB regular season is still 13 days away, but Willson Contreras is ready for the swings to count.

The Cubs catcher hit an absolute bomb of a homer Friday afternoon off White Sox pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, but it wasn't just a homer.

Contreras put an exclamation mark on the dinger (his third of the spring and the second this week) with an A+ bat flip:

I'm not sure what's more majestic: The 450-foot shot or the 45-foot bat-flip.

Either way, Contreras is ready for those 2018 NL MVP votes.

Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback


Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

San Francisco Giants

2017 record: 64-98, last place in NL West

Offseason additions: Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Austin Jackson, Gregor Blanco, Tony Watson, Julian Fernandez

Offseason departures: Michael Morse, Matt Cain, Matt Moore, Denard Span, Kyle Crick, Christian Arroyo

X-factor: Brandon Belt

The trades for Longoria and McCutchen are going to get all the attention, but the Giants are sort of acquiring Belt, too. 

Their sweet-swining lefty first baseman only appeared in 104 games in 2017, missing the last few weeks of the season with a bad concussion. When he was on the field, he led the team in both homers (18) and walks (66) despite just 451 plate appearances. 

Belt has turned into one of the most patient hitters in the game and if he is able to stay healthy for a full season, would slot in perfectly in the 2-hole ahead of McCutchen, Longoria and Buster Posey. 

Projected lineup

1. Joe Panik - 2B
2. Brandon Belt - 1B
3. Andrew McCutchen - RF
4. Buster Posey - C
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Hunter Pence - LF
7. Brandon Crawford - SS
8. Austin Jackson - CF

Projected rotation

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Ty Blach
5. Chris Stratton


The Giants tied for the worst record in Major League Baseball in 2017, surprising many around the league. Absolutely nothing went right for the team, from a lack of power on the field (Belt missed a third of the season and still led the team in homers), injuries (Bumgarner only made 17 starts) and general ineffectiveness (Mark Melancon).

But the Giants are a team that excels in even years, though the Cubs may have broken that juju by knocking San Fran out of the NLDS in 2016.

Still, between the return to health of key players and some big moves that improved the lineup, this team is primed for a return to form.

Watson is a nice piece at the back end of the bullpen and bet on a rebound from Melancon, who was one of the best late-inning relievers in the game from 2013-16 (1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 147 saves).

Expect more out of the rotation with Bumgarner and Cueto a dynamic 1-2 punch. Cubs fans are familiar with what Samardzija can do if he gets on a role, too.

It seems crazy to pick the Giants to finish higher than the Diamondbacks, but they still have the same core of players from the championship years and have a much-improved roster.

Prediction: Second place in NL West, wild-card team

Complete opposition research

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Franciso Giants